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Posted at 1:05 PM ET, 12/10/2010

Senate Democrats' 2012 geography problem

By Chris Cillizza

Of the 21 Democratic Senators up for reelection in 2012, just five represent states that Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) won in 2008.

Those five -- Sens. Joe Manchin (W. Va.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) -- are squarely in the sights of Republicans and have been for some time.

Those numbers don't provide a full picture of the vulnerability for Senate Democrats in 2012, however.

Go back four more years to President Bush's 2004 reelection race and you see that he carried nine total states where Democrats are running for reelection: the five mentioned above as well as New Mexico, Ohio, Florida and Virginia.

Friday Line

Three more states with Democratic Senators up for reelection in 2012 -- Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin -- were won by Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) with 51 percent or less.

Add it all up and there are 12 states in which Democrats are running for re-election that have either gone for -- or narrowly missed going for -- Republicans at the national level within the last two presidential cycles.

That's a significant amount of vulnerability for Democrats if -- and this if a GIANT "if" -- the political landscape looks anything like it did in 2010. An unpopular President Obama could make it difficult for a majority of these dozen Democrats to swim against the tide.

(Of course, Obama will undoubtedly help people like Sen. Amy Klobuchar in Minnesota and Sen. Debbie Stabenow in Michigan -- two states with strong Democratic bases that will turn out more heavily in a presidential year than they would in a midterm election.)

What's clear is that unlike 2010 where Democrats were able to beat back the Republican wave in the Senate due at least in part to hot races in friendly states like Washington and California, the geography of 2012 is significantly more challenging for Democrats.

As always, the number one ranked race on the Line is considered the most likely to switch party control in November 2012. Kudos? Critiques? The comments section awaits.

To the Line!

Coming off the Line: North Dakota
Coming onto the Line: Michigan

10. Montana (Democratic-controlled): Sen. Jon Tester (D) has pretty solid personal approval numbers, and the Republican bench here is pretty thin. A recent survey from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling showed Tester in a statistical tie with Rep. Denny Rehberg and trailing former Gov. Marc Racicot. But Racicot has shown no interest in the race, and Rehberg could also run in the open seat governor's race, which might be an easier path. Against several other candidates (including an announced candidate, businessman Steve Daines) Tester led but was under 50 percent. (Previous ranking: 4)

9. West Virginia (D): One of three new senators to be sworn in during Congress' lame-duck session, Joe Manchin has already begun gearing up for a tough 2012 re-election bid. The Democrat who bucked his party on the 2010 campaign trail has continued to separate himself from national Democrats: last week, he was one of four Democrats to vote against extending the Bush-era tax cuts only for the middle class, and yesterday he was the lone Democrat to vote against repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. If Rep. Shelley Moore Capito decides to run, Manchin could be in for a fight. But if Capito and another potential contender, former state Secretary of State Betty Ireland (R), decide to run for governor in 2011 or 2012 instead, Manchin may breathe a little easier. (Previous ranking: 10)

8. Michigan (D): PPP found Sen. Debbie Stabenow doesn't have great numbers -- 41 percent job approval and 40 percent disapproval. What's more, she's running virtually even with a slate of potential GOP opponents, including outgoing Rep. Peter Hoekstra, who lost in the GOP governor's primary this year. The struggling economy left Democrats little chance in the state's governor's race this year; Stabenow will need to do some work to overcome the environment if things don't pick up but should benefit from presidential year turnout in this Democratic-leaning state. (Previous ranking: N/A)

7. Florida (D): Republicans committed campaign malpractice in 2006 when they nominated controversial Rep. Katherine Harris (R) against Sen. Bill Nelson (D). They won't make that mistake again. State Senate President Mike Haridopolos is all but in the race for Republicans and soon-to-be-former Sen. George LeMieux is interested in running too. Does either man blink? If not, a nasty and expensive primary could strengthen Nelson's chances at reelection. (Previous ranking: 8)

6. Missouri (D): Former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman (R) is already in the race; the question now is whether former Sen. Jim Talent joins her. Analysts are already pointing to an establishment (Talent) versus tea party (Steelman) matchup, thought it's not totally clear that Steelman fits the bill. Thankfully for her, it's also not completely clear that Talent will get in the race, with some signs that he might be wavering. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) would love to see that primary, but either way she's probably in for a tough race for second term thanks to the state's conservative tilt and her closeness to President Obama. (Previous ranking: 6)

5. Ohio (D): Ohio may the swingiest state in the country. When Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) won in a landslide in 2006, he was joined in the romp by Gov. Ted Strickland (D) among others. Four years later, Strickland is out of a job and Republicans are licking their chops about the prospect of taking down Brown in two years time. Rep. Jim Jordan seems to be the preferred Republican pick but has given no indication on whether he will run or not. (Previous ranking: 7)

4. Massachusetts (Republican-controlled): Sen. Scott Brown will face voters in 2012 for the first time since winning January's special election for the seat of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D). Democrats believe they have a better shot this time around than last when Brown was boosted by a small (but energized) GOP base, disaffected independents and low Democratic turnout (thanks in part to a series of disastrous missteps by the Democratic nominee, state Attorney General Martha Coakley). But a recent Democratic poll showed Brown comfortably leading several potential contenders, meaning that Democrats will likely be in for a tough fight. (Previous ranking: 2)

3. Virginia (D): It seems more a matter of when than if former Sen. George Allen (R) gets into the race against Sen. Jim Webb(D). A primary is already brewing though, with Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart (R) calling Allen a "mediocre" senator and Allen returning fire. Allen also trained his focus on Webb this week, criticizing a couple of the senator's votes. Webb, of course, may not even run. If he doesn't Democrats will likely turn to Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine. (Previous ranking: 5)

2. Nevada (R): The decision by the Justice Department not to pursue charges against Sen. John Ensign in a case involving the husband of his mistress is actually bad news for national Republicans. Ensign has given every indication he plans to run for reelection despite the scandal and can now argue to voters that he made a personal not a professional transgression. Still, Rep. Dean Heller would be a formidable primary opponent and a likely winner against Ensign. Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, if she runs, would have to hope that the GOP primary turned nasty and protracted. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. Nebraska (D): Sen. Ben Nelson remains on the retirement watch list and if he goes so does any chance his party has of holding this seat. If Nelson decides to run for a third term, however, he faces tough odds in one of the most Republican-friendly states in the country. State Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) is already in the race and running aggressively; if Bruning can avoid a serious primary fight, it makes Nelson's path to reelection all that much tougher. (Previous ranking: 1)

With Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez

By Chris Cillizza  | December 10, 2010; 1:05 PM ET
Categories:  The Line  
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